Monday, May 12, 2014

Life After Youth Media

by Jenny Choi, Journalism Program Officer

On Tuesday, April 29th, 2014, over 100 stakeholders in youth development and youth media convened over breakfast to hear and discuss the results of a study conducted by Heartland Alliance’s Social Impact Research Center, “Life After Youth Media: Insights about Program Influence into Adulthood” at the Union League Club of Chicago.

The event highlighted the release of the second part of a two-part report outlining the landscape of Chicago youth media organizations, and the findings of interviewing over 200 alumni of McCormick-funded Chicago youth media programs.

Laura Washington MC’ed the event, and Renee Ferguson was the keynote speaker, delivering highlights of the study.

Ferguson prefaced the highlights by sharing her own experiences growing up in a segregated Alabama in the '50's and '60's, and explaining how journalism and writing saved her life as a teen. She made the connection to the recent incidents of youth violence in Chicago communities and how the work of youth media programs continues to be critical and relevant today.

The study showed that developing youth media skills compliments learning in other contexts such as communicating clearly, critical thinking and becoming “news literate.” Other highlights included:
  • 90 percent of alumni experienced an increase in self-confidence, especially with regard to having a voice, as a direct result of participating in a youth media program
  • 80 percent of alumni report an increased ability to think critically and independently
  • 76 percent of alumni understand issues facing their communities as a direct result of youth media programs.

The program then featured three youth media alumni who told their individual stories:

Whitney Smith (CTVN) interned with CTVN as a sophomore at Young Women’s Charter School and continued on through high school to eventually become hired by CTVN as a Teaching Artist: “CTVN taught me I can be who I want to be instead of what society tells me I should be.”

Nader Ihmoud (Columbia Links) began his speech by taking a “selfie” of himself and the audience, beaming with pride. Because of his experience with C-Links as a Lane Tech student, he is now pursuing a journalism/sports broadcasting degree at Columbia College and secured his first freelance journalism job.

J’mme Love (Free Spirit Media) talked about feeling like an “outsider” and being in an alternative high school with not much direction or purpose. His experience in Free Spirit Media “motivated me to be a contributing member of society.”

The program then opened up to the audience for a Q & A session to talk about next steps. Among the audience members was David Vitale, the president of the Chicago Board of Education, who explained that “in a large decentralized system like CPS, the authority resides with the principals…” suggesting that youth media groups should seek principals to champion their work, and reach students at their schools.

Vitale also said CPS used to push hard mostly on reading and math but more recently has launched science/tech and art initiatives. In the last year and a half an Arts Planning committee has met to reinvest in arts curriculum. Vitale noted that media was missing in the arts planning committee agenda, which he promised to include at the next Arts Planning meeting, scheduled to meet later that same day.

The youth in the audience suggested programs should reach youth early on to expose youth to more enriched news content instead of entertainment news only, so youth “can stop being told what’s cool” and can begin to think more independently and understand “how society operates.” Youth media groups also need to “make [programs] fun.”

In closing, Renee Ferguson, Laura Washington and Journalism Program Director Clark Bell implored the audience members to leave their contact information on notecards provided at each table, and to make a pledge to support and expand the work of youth media organizations. “The children will not wait,” Ferguson said, “We will have a role on young people’s lives in a way we don’t know yet, and this is one way to do that.”

Clark Bell jumpstarted the collective pledge by presenting the Chicago Youth Voices Network with a $50,000 grant from the McCormick Foundation’s Journalism Program for the youth media collaborative’s capacity-building activities.

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